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Cultural studies

(culturalstudies)






Cultural studies combines sociology , literary theory , film/videostudies , and cultural anthropology to study cultural phenomena in industrial societies . Cultural studies researchers often concentrate on how a particular phenomenonrelates to matters of ideology , race , social class , and/or gender .

Cultural studies concerns itself with the meaning and practices of everyday life . Cultural practices comprise the ways people do particular things(such as watching television, or eating out) in a given culture. Particular meanings attach to the ways people in particularcultures do things.

In his book Introducing Cultural Studies, Ziauddin Sardhar lists the following five main characteristics of cultural studies:

  • Cultural studies aims to examine its subject matter in terms of cultural practices and their relation to power .
  • It has the objective of understanding culture in all its complex forms and of analysing the social and political context inwhich culture manifests itself.
  • It is both the object of study and the location of political criticism and action.
  • It attempts to expose and reconcile the division of knowledge , to overcomethe split between tacit ( cultural knowledge ) and objective (universal) forms of knowledge.
  • It has a commitment to a moral evaluation of modern society and to a radical line of political action.

Scholars in the United Kingdom and the United States developed somewhat different versions of cultural studies after the field's inception inthe late 1970s . The British version of cultural studies often promulgated overtlypolitically leftist views and criticisms of capitalist mass culture ; it absorbed some of the ideas ofthe Frankfurt School critique of the " culture industry " (i.e. mass culture). This emerges in the writings ofearly British cultural-studies scholars and their influences: see the work of (for example) Raymond Williams and Paul Gilroy .

In contrast, the American version of cultural studies initially concerned itself more with understanding the subjective andappropriative side of audience reactions to, and uses of, mass culture ;American cultural-studies advocates wrote about the liberatory aspects of fandom . Seethe writings of critics such as John Guillory . The distinction between American and British strands, however, has faded.

Some scholars, especially in early British cultural studies, apply a Marxist modelto the field. The main focus of an orthodox Marxist approach concentrates on the production of meaning . This model assumes a mass production of culture and identifies power as residing with thoseproducing cultural artifacts. In a Marxist view, those who control the means of production (the economic base) essentially control a culture.

Other approaches to cultural studies, such as feminist cultural studies andlater American developments of the field, distance themselves from this rigidly deterministic view. They criticise the Marxistassumption of a single, dominant meaning, shared by all, for any cultural product. The non-Marxist approaches suggest thatdifferent ways of consuming cultural artifacts affect the meaning of theproduct.

Another major point of criticism involved the traditional view assuming a passive consumer. Other views challenge this,particularly by underlining the different ways people read, receive, and interpret cultural texts. On this view, aconsumer can appropriate, actively reject, or challenge the meaning of a product. These different approaches have shifted thefocus away from the production of items. Instead, they argue that consumption plays an equally important role,since the way consumers consume a product gives meaning to an item. Some closely link the act of consuming with identity . Stuart Hall has become influential in these developments. Some commentators have describedthe shift towards meaning as the cultural turn .

In the context of cultural studies, the idea of a text not only includeswritten language, but also films , photographs , fashion or hairstyles : the texts of cultural studies comprise all the meaningful artifacts of culture. Similarly, thediscipline widens the concept of "culture". "Culture" for a cultural studies researcher not only includes the traditional high arts and popular arts , but also everyday meaningsand practices. The last two, in fact, have become the main focus of cultural studies.

Compare: culture , cultural history , culture theory .

See also: postmodernism , queer theory , popular culture , gender studies , orientalism , critical theory , feminism , semiotics , social constructionalism , new musicology , Roland Barthes ' Mythologies .


In a loosely related but separate usage, the phrase cultural studies sometimes serves as a rough synonym for area studies , as a general term referring to the academicstudy of particular cultures in departments and programs such as Islamicstudies , Asian studies , African American studies , African studies , etal..


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